Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Left Hates Anything Old. By Dennis Prager.

The Left Hates Anything Old. By Dennis Prager. National Review Online, October 8, 2013.

Miley Cyrus’s Kind of Cool. By Mona Charen.

Miley Cyrus’s Kind of Cool. By Mona Charen. National Review Online, October 8, 2013.

Remembering Ovadia Yosef, the Israeli Ayatollah. By Jeffrey Goldberg.

Remembering Ovadia Yosef, the Israeli Ayatollah. By Jeffrey Goldberg. Bloomberg, October 8, 2013.


More than 700,000 people gathered in Jerusalem yesterday to mourn the death of a great sage, Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel and the supreme guide of the Shas political party.
The country had never before seen a funeral of this size. The mass of mourners was a testament to Yosef’s magnetism and scholarship, as well as to the work he did to lift up his community, the once-aggrieved (and still occasionally put-upon) Mizrachim, or Jews from Arab countries. (Yosef was himself born in Baghdad and served as a rabbi in Cairo.)
The party Yosef created made him a kingmaker in Israeli politics (read Noah Feldman’s incisive look at Yosef's revolutionary role in transforming Israeli political culture), and he was perhaps best known, beyond the walls of ultra-Orthodoxy, for his ruling that it would be permissible under Jewish law to cede biblical land to Palestinians if lives would be saved by doing so.
Much of the coverage of Yosef’s death has focused on the transformative role he played in the lives of Mizrachim. But much of it has neglected to mention the unfortunate fact that Yosef was a mean-spirited fundamentalist who created a corrupt party that coarsened Israeli politics, held a medieval belief in a vindictive God, and made abominable pronouncements on the moral and personal qualities of those of different races, religions and political views.
I spend a lot of time in this space highlighting the corrosive anti-Semitism of such figures as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the extremist Al Jazeera televangelist. It’s unpleasant but necessary to note that Israel, too, has its share of religious fanatics. Yosef was his country’s most eminent. It’s true that he endorsed (as a theoretical matter) the idea of Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. But when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon argued for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Yosef said, “God will strike him with one blow and he will die. He will sleep and not awake.” (Some of Yosef’s followers were ecstatic – I saw their ecstasy with my own eyes – when Sharon later suffered a stroke.)
In the manner of the crudest fundamentalists everywhere, Yosef blamed misfortune and death on apostasy, irreligiosity and homosexuality (gay people, in his eyes, were “completely evil”). About Israeli soldiers who fell in battle, Yosef once said, “Is it any wonder if, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war? They don’t observe the Sabbath, they don’t observe the Torah, they don’t pray, they don’t put on phylacteries every day. Is it any wonder that they’re killed? It’s no wonder.” Even more famously, he blamed the deaths of Jews during the Holocaust on the spiritual deficiencies of their ancestors.
In 2005, he argued that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the Gaza withdrawal and for the alleged godlessness of the black residents of New Orleans. “There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn't enough Torah study,” he said. “Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God.” He went on to argue – if that’s the word for it – that the deaths were also punishment directed at President George W. Bush for pressuring Sharon to remove Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. “It was God’s retribution,” he said. “God does not short-change anyone.”
Yosef’s excoriations of Israeli politicians were legendary. In the last election, Yosef said this about the leadership of the right-wing Jewish Home party: “Those are religious people? They come to uproot the Torah. Those who elect them deny the Torah, this is the Jewish Home? This is the Jewish Home of the gentiles.”
The most devastating insult Yosef could muster against a Jew was to label him a gentile. He held gentiles in general contempt. “Goyim were born only to serve us,” he said in a 2010 sermon. “Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the people of Israel.” 

Of Muslims, he said, “They’re stupid. Their religion is as ugly as they are.” His hatred of Palestinians was obvious. Speaking of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides, Yosef said, “All these evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”
Yosef’s defenders will note that Abbas was one of the many dignitaries who expressed his condolences on learning of Yosef’s death. Abbas did so for the same reason Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did: because Yosef represented a vast and powerful political constituency.
Defenders of Yosef will also argue that his outbursts and prejudices came late in life (though not all of them did) or that they were the product of his upbringing, as a Jew who was both discriminated against by Muslims and who led an ethnic group that suffered at their hands. Yosef’s apologists also argue that the good work he did – on behalf of war widows, for instance – mitigates the damage of his egregious words.
Sorry, no: Prejudice is prejudice, whether it comes from an imam in Qatar or from the man whose Jewish critics labeled him, correctly, the “Israeli ayatollah.”

Ovadia Yosef, the Rabbi Who Brought Religion Into Israeli Politics. By Noah Feldman.

The Rabbi Who Brought Religion Into Israeli Politics. By Noah Feldman. Bloomberg, October 7, 2013.


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died at age 93 in Jerusalem, wasn’t just the most important rabbi in the world. He was a transformative figure in Israeli politics, galvanizing Israelis of Middle Eastern origin into their own ethnically distinct political identity and founding the religious-ethnic party Shas.
Although he viewed the Israeli state with ambivalent engagement, Yosef was a harbinger of Israel’s epochal transformation from a secular nationalist Jewish state into a religious nationalist state – in other words, a country much more like its Middle Eastern neighbors than it otherwise would be.
Born Abdullah Yusef in Baghdad in 1920, Yosef moved to Palestine with his family as a small child and was educated in a yeshiva called Porat Yosef, founded a few years earlier to perpetuate the distinctive traditions of Jews from Arabic-speaking Mediterranean lands, a group sometimes imprecisely labeled Sephardic and today in Israel called Mizrahi, meaning “Eastern” or “Oriental.”
His rise to rabbinic prominence grew from his encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish law, which reflected the traditional Mizrahi preference for breadth of legal knowledge and practical study rather than the northern European emphasis on depth at the expense of coverage. He served as the Sephardic chief rabbi from 1973 to 1983, after a contested election in which he successfully challenged the incumbent chief rabbi with whose rulings he disagreed.
Yosef’s willingness to serve in the official governmental post of chief rabbi differentiated him from the European-origin, or Ashkenazi, leaders of ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel. Those men were either skeptical of the Zionist project or outright opposed to it, and traditionally believed that the Jewish people should not attempt to exercise political sovereignty until a supernatural messianic age brought it about. They viewed the state of Israel as secular and therefore illegitimate, and felt the chief rabbinate office gave a false religious patina to an essentially nonreligious polity.
In contrast, Yosef was willing to meet the state halfway: to insist that a truly legitimate Israel would be based on Jewish religion, not Jewish nationalism, while still engaging with the state’s political institutions. In one remarkable decision, he opined that it was prohibited for an observant Jew to initiate a lawsuit in Israel’s secular courts because their status was comparable to that of non-Jewish courts in the diaspora. Yet at the same time, he refused to call himself a non-Zionist, pointing to his service as chief rabbi.
This complexity, not to say contradiction, led Yosef to the most astonishing act of his career when in 1984 he was a founder of the Shas Party, which was both a religious party and at the same time the first overtly ethnic party in Israeli political history, aimed at furthering the interests of Mizrahi Israelis. The brilliance of Shas was that unlike previous ultra-Orthodox parties, which could not hope to get votes from anyone but the then-small minority of ultra-Orthodox Jewish voters, Shas appealed to all Jews of Eastern origin, regardless of how religiously observant they might be.
The key to this appeal was that, unlike their Ashkenazi counterparts, Mizrahi Jews had never developed an aggressive secular nationalist ideology. Even those who might not be scrupulous in their personal religious observance tended to feel warmth, not hostility, for those more pious than they. The simplest analogy is to the population in the Arabic speaking countries from which most of them came: Secularism never really caught on in the Arab world, and until today, many of those who vote for Islamic political parties are not themselves devout.
Shas caught fire and in 1999 became the third largest party in the Knesset. Although plagued by corruption scandals – none of which touched Yosef personally – it has remained an important force in Israeli politics. The rise of Shas made Yosef more famous and important outside the religious world than any other rabbi in Israeli life had ever been. As spiritual leader of a major party, his judgments could lead to the rise and fall of prime ministers, as has been the case for Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Yosef’s native Iraq.
Most significantly, Yosef in the 1990s issued a highly controversial judgment that it was permissible as a matter of Jewish law for the state to exchange territory for peace with Palestinian negotiating counterparts. This ruling, far more lenient than that of other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis who have considered the subject, captured Yosef’s distinctive mix of legal acumen and flexible statecraft.
In recent years, Shas has crept to the right in the Israeli political spectrum. But the real political legacy of Yosef’s career is that, by making a religious party into a mainstream, non-rejectionist national actor, he helped move Israeli political culture from secular nationalism to a more religiously-informed model. In a rough parallel to the rise of Islamic politics in Arabic-speaking countries, the politics of Jewish religion, not just Jewish nationalism, is now an enduring part of the Israeli landscape.
That this was accomplished by a rabbi of unquestioned legal preeminence, born in Baghdad, is not a coincidence.

A Fairytale of Two Cities. By Myron Magnet.

A Fairytale of Two Cities. By Myron Magnet. City Journal, October 7, 2013.

Can You Feel Love and Lust for the Same Person. By Esther Perel.

Can You Feel Love and Lust for the Same Person. By Esther Perel. The Huffington Post, October 4, 2013.

Erotic Fantasy Reconsidered: From Tragedy to Triumph. By Esther Perel. American Family Therapy Academy Monograph Series, Vol. 7 (Spring 2011).

Esther Perel website.

Esther Perel: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship. Video. TED, February 2013. YouTube.

Why Bother Being Jewish? By Caroline Glick.

Why bother being Jewish? By Caroline Glick. Jerusalem Post, October 8, 2013. Also at CarolineGlick.com.

American Jews: Laughing But Shrinking. By Jonathan S. Tobin. NJBR, October 1, 2013. With related articles.


Why should American Jews bother to be Jewish? According to a new Pew Research Center survey of the American Jewish community, more and more American Jews have reached the conclusion that there is no reason to be Jewish.
Outside of the Orthodox Jewish community, intermarriage rates have reached 71 percent. Thirty-two percent of Jews born since 1980 and 22% of Jews overall do not describe themselves as Jews by religion. They base their Jewish identity on ancestry, ethnicity or culture.
Whereas 73% of Jews say that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of being Jewish, only 19% said that observing Jewish law is a vital aspect of Jewish identity. Fourteen percent say eating Jewish foods is indispensable for their Jewish identity. Forty-two percent say that having a sense of humor is a critical part of being a Jew.
Gabriel Roth, an intermarried Jewish author, welcomes these numbers. In a column in Slate, Roth claimed that the reason most cultural Jews keep traditions of any kind is a sense of guilt toward their parents and previous generations of Jews. He believes that it’s time to get over the guilt. Keeping such traditions has “no intrinsic meaning.”
“How much value can ‘Jewish heritage’ have if it signifies nothing beyond its own perpetuation?” he asked sneeringly.
Obviously, the answer is no value. To do something you feel is intrinsically meaningless just because your forefathers did the same meaningless thing is a waste of time. If Judaism has nothing to offer beyond lox and Seinfeld, then there is no reason to remain Jewish.
The findings of the Pew survey, and indeed, sentiments like those that Roth described are no surprise to those who have been following the downward trajectory of the American Jewish community.
Numerous initiatives have been adopted over the past decade or so to try to reverse the trend toward assimilation and loss of Jewish identity. These initiatives, including websites like JDate that help Jewish singles find and marry one another, and Birthright, which has brought tens of thousands of young, largely unaffiliated Jews to Israel, have had a positive impact in slowing down the trend. But the move away from Judaism for non-Orthodox American Jews remains seemingly inexorable.
“We have tried a lot of different things and created a lot of wonderful programs,” explains political theorist Yoram Hazony, the founder of the Shalem Center and author of The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, published last year.
Hazony, who now heads the Herzl Institute, continues, “We’ve tried everything other than the central thing. Jews need to understand that there is an attractive and compelling idea that makes it valuable to be Jews.”
That idea, as Hazony explained in his recent book, is found first and foremost in the Bible.
Roth wrote, “If you believe that Jewish traditions are part of a covenant with God, of course you want your children to continue them.”
Yes, of course. But if you think that Judaism can be summed up so glibly, then you have no idea what it is that you are abandoning.
So in a sense, you are abandoning nothing. Because you cannot abandon what you never had in the first place.
And what Jews like Roth never had is basic Jewish literacy.

Hazony’s excellent book explains in easy, approachable language that the wisdom and philosophy imparted by the Hebrew Bible was purposely denied by the anti-Semitic philosophers of the Enlightenment. Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Hegel and other leading philosophers of the Enlightenment were vicious Jew haters. They sought to cleanse modern philosophy of all references to the Bible in a bid to write Jews and Judaism out of the history of ideas and the contemporary intellectual world.
This they accomplished by subsuming the Hebrew scriptures (like the New Testament) under a broader criticism of “work of revelation.” As a revealed text, (a divine covenant ordered by a deity with which none of us have direct dealings), the Hebrew scripture was then misrepresented as something that has no relevance for people trying to determine for themselves what it means to live a good, moral and just life. Those concepts, we were told, could only be learned from Greek philosophers, who, in turn, were falsely characterized as atheists.
Hazony does not simply expose the philosophical crime against the Jews undertaken by the Enlightenment philosophers. He demonstrates why the ideas found in the Bible are deeply relevant and important to our lives, and indeed, how they form the basis for man’s quest to live a good, moral life.
“The Jewish idea is in the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinical commentaries on the Tanach,” he explains.
“To the extent we care and see something worthwhile in these ideas then everything falls into place. When you take it all out, everything turns into a bagel – it all tastes good but there’s a big hole in the center where the idea is supposed to be.
“The Jews were the people who brought the idea that an individual was responsible for discovering truth and right and for bringing it into the world.
That is the idea that freed mankind.
That is the biblical idea. The Bible is about the expectation that a human being is going to take responsibility for discovering the truth and what’s right and devote his or her life to bringing what is right to the world.
“The fact that most Jews no longer study it, no longer remember it, means they stopped being part of the historic Jewish drama. It is being part of that great drama that makes people care whether their children receive a Jewish education and marry Jews, and that makes them support Israel. Without the great drama that we learn from the Bible, then Israel becomes meaningless and intermarriage becomes obvious,” Hazony concludes.
Orthodox Jews feel that the Holocaust is less essential to their Jewish identity than Conservative and Reform Jews, (66% of Orthodox, versus 78% and 77% of Conservative and Reform Jews, respectively). On the other hand, 69% of Orthodox Jews believe that being part of a Jewish community is essential to their Judaism. Just 40% and 25% of Conservative and Reform Jews, respectively, feel this way. And this makes sense.
The Holocaust was the most recent attempt of an oppressor to annihilate the Jews. In the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people, there have been dozens of attempts to annihilate us. The Jewish story is the story not of others’ attempts to destroy us, nor even of our capacity to withstand and survive these attempts. The Jewish story is the story of the lives we lived, the culture we developed, and the life of the mind that bound us together.
Jews who have learned the Bible know their history did not start in 1933. They know that the Jewish story is the story of a people that believes so strongly in its mission to bring the liberating idea of personal responsibility to choose good and life over evil and death that it refused to surrender to its oppressors.
The Jewish drama, as set out in the Bible, is the story of a nation that from the outset and until the present day chooses freedom over submission, while maintaining allegiance to a sacred trust, and an ancient people and a promised land.
When you understand this, remaining Jewish is a privilege, not a sacrifice.
And, alas, when you fail to understand this, leaving Judaism not a tragedy but simply a natural progression.

Tyler Cowen’s Future Shock: No More Average People. By Michael Barone.

Tyler Cowen’s Future Shock: No More Average People. By Michael Barone. National Review Online, October 8, 2013. Also at Real Clear Politics, Townhall.com.

How to Avoid the Coming Middle-Class Meltdown. By James Pethokoukis. National Review Online, October 7, 2013.

Which workers will survive the robot age? By Kyle Smith. New York Post, October 5, 2013.

Visions of a Permanent Underclass. By William A. Galston. Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2013. Also here.

Two Nations, Under Mammon. By Patrick J. Deneen. The American Conservative, October 2, 2013.

Book Review: “Average Is Over” by Tyler Cowen. By Philip Delves Broughton. Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2013.

America Has Become a “Cheater-Take-All” Nation. By William K. Black. AlterNet, October 4, 2013.

Tyler Cowen’s Gloomy Vision Is Flawed In Its Very Conception. By Mark Hendrickson. Forbes, October 14, 2013.

Average Is Over—But the American Dream Lives On. By Andrew Lewis. The American Interest, October 15, 2013.

Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit. By George A. Akerlof and Paul M. Romer. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Vol. 1993, No. 2. Also here.

Average Is Over – if We Want It to Be. By Matthew Yglesias. Slate, September 26, 2013.

One Man’s Brave New World. By Richard Reeves. Truthdig, September 13, 2013.

Tired Of Inequality? One Economist Says It’ll Only Get Worse. Tyler Cowen interviewed by Steve Inskeep. NPR, September 12, 2013.

Tyler Cowen on Inequality, the Future, and Average Is Over. Interviewed by Russ Roberts. Audio. Library of Economics and Liberty, September 30, 2013.

Is Downton Abbey the Future of the US Economy? By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, November 9, 2013. 

Outsource Your Way to Success. By Catherine Rampell. New York Times Magazine, November 10, 2013. Also here.

Average Is Over. By Tyler Cowen. NJBR, September 7, 2013.

Victorian Values For the 21st Century. By Margaret Wente.

Victorian values for the 21st century. By Margaret Wente. The Globe and Mail, October 5, 2013.


The new economy will be won by those who can exercise discipline, conscientiousness and diligence

My dental hygienist is one of the most important people in my life. She keeps my teeth from falling out. She's highly skilled, diligent and conscientious, and when she tells me I need to floss more, she does it in the nicest way. Like the vast majority of dental hygienists, she’s a woman.
“Are there any men who do this?” I asked. She laughed. She said she’d never met one.
Being a dental hygienist is a pretty good career, especially as boomers enter their periodontal years. But the aptitudes you need to do the work are far more common among women than men: attention to detail, good people skills, super-cleanliness, ability to work in teams, calm and steady temperament. Men who go into the field are often the only males in their classes.
The 21st century will have a lot more work like dental hygiene, and a lot less work where it’s okay to skip the morning shower, have a few beers at lunch and screw off in the fall to go duck hunting. That’s an important reason why female employment has been on the rise and men’s participation in the work force has plunged to record lows.
We hear a lot of noise about creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. These are supposedly the defining traits that will separate the winners from the losers in the new hyper-competitive meritocracy. But for most of us, the real keys to success are far more old-fashioned – Victorian, even. They are self-regulation, conscientiousness and diligence. More than ever, perhaps, 21st-century success will require 19th-century values.
As for education, it won’t do much good for people who aren’t motivated or disciplined enough to acquire it. These people are mainly men. We all know that low-skilled men will be our world’s biggest losers, but it’s often not lack of skills that holds them back. It’s lack of the aptitudes and attitudes required for success. These are the men who can’t stay in school, can’t apply themselves, can’t take direction or defer rewards, can’t be reliable and can’t function well in teams. “Young male hotheads who just can’t follow orders are pretty well doomed,” economist Tyler Cowen says in Average is Over, a sharp and sobering book on who will get ahead, and why.
Self-regulation matters more today in every field – even journalism. In the distant mists of time, when newspapers were still set in hot type and women were relegated to the women’s section, newsmen smoked like chimneys, cursed like sailors and got hammered at the Press Club every night. Their social skills would never make the cut today. In modern newsrooms, no one ever drinks or smokes or yells. Young reporters are required to have advanced degrees, take direction well and work in teams. Their idea of substance abuse is eating doughnuts in the office.
Today, it’s work habits – not credentials or connections – that separate one liberal-arts BA from another. The one who works her butt off and saves her money is still destined for the upper middle-class. The Grand Theft Auto addict is destined for his parents’ basement.
The trouble is that cultivating 19th-century habits in the 21st century isn’t easy. In Victorian times, self-regulation was reinforced by many kinds of external pressure, including social norms, religion, family and Queen. The consequences of lapsing from the straight and narrow – social disgrace, even ruin – could be severe. Today, you’re far more reliant on yourself to stay the course, and nobody else much cares if you don’t.
On top of that, we face temptations our ancestors could never have imagined – many of them engineered to zero in on our pleasure centres with scientific precision. As Daniel Akst argues in his highly readable book, Temptation: Finding Self-Control in an Age of Excess, modern life requires an unnatural degree of self-control. Our ancestors were too busy just surviving to succumb to bad habits. But in an age of super-affluence, it’s a constant struggle to keep our appetites in check. “It’s not that we have less willpower than we used to,” he writes, “but rather that modern life immerses us daily in a set of temptations far more evolved than we are.”
Self-discipline and high IQ often go together. But they are not the same. As Mr. Akst reports, self-discipline is a far better predictor of university grades than either IQ or SAT scores. Two University of Pennsylvania research psychologists, Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth, have argued that a major reason for student underachievement is not inadequate schools or boring textbooks, but “failure to exercise self-discipline . . . we believe that many of America’s children have trouble making choices that require them to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain.”
The million-dollar question is to what extent these qualities can be instilled in kids – especially poor ones, who lack the family support and other advantages available to children from better-off families. That’s the new holy grail in education. It’s also the foundation of the KIPP charter school movement, which emphasizes character, high expectations and discipline. And it’s the reason that Ms. Duckworth won a MacArthur “Genius” award. The money will be used to fund her research into practical ways of strengthening self-regulation among children.
“The more a society progesses, the bigger a problem self-control turns out to be,” Mr. Cowen says. In the new hyper-meritocracy, people with temperate habits and Victorian values will do better than ever – and people who can't resist temptation will do even worse.
Which reminds me: I’ve got to go home and floss my teeth.

How to Revive the American Family. By Michael J. Lotus.

How to Revive the American Family. By Michael J. Lotus. Real Clear Religion, October 7, 2013.